With the transition back to the 4-3 defense, the Buffalo Bills' linebacking corps will look completely different than that of 2012.
The middle linebacker is the quarterback of the defense, meaning that he has to make sure every teammate is in the correct position. Middle linebackers' responsibilities are stopping the run and dropping into coverage, in addition to blitzing on occasion. With inside linebacker starting this year, let's take a look at the Bills' middle linebacker situation.
Entering his second professional season, Kelvin Sheppard will be anchoring the Bills defense, after starting nine games in his rookie season. Last year, he recorded 70 tackles and seemed to pick up the defensive scheme quickly.
Despite entering just his second year in the National Football League, defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt has nothing but praise for the former Louisiana State standout, telling BuffaloBills.com:
“I’ve got all the confidence in the world with Shep being the middle linebacker. To me he’s about what you’re looking for in a 4-3 middle linebacker.
"He did a great job (last year). He really, I thought, got better and better as the year went on. He became more confident and quicker and now he’s got to play in the box and doesn’t need to play on the edge as much. I think it’s going to fit his skills to a ‘T.’ I think he’s going to be a very, very productive player for us.”
Without any serious competition behind him on the depth chart, Sheppard really needs to expand and grow from his rookie season to develop into one of the most well-rounded middle linebackers in the AFC East.
The Bills picked up middle linebacker Scott McKillop, a former player of defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt during their time at Pittsburgh. Wanndstedt said it was worth giving the "kid" a shot:
“He’s an exceptional player,” said the veteran coach. ”He graduated in three and a half years so he’s a smart kid. He was a first-team All-American. Led the nation in tackles. Tough guy that can play outside or inside. As a rookie he led the 49ers in tackles on special teams.”
McKillop wont see many snaps, but he will be a key component of the special teams unit.
Tank Carder was selected in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft. Carder is a versatile middle linebacker, a position he held down during his time with the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs, and could make an impact in his rookie campaign.
BuffaloBills.com's Chris Brown described Carder in a "Training Camp Sleepers" article, explaining:
A throwback, lunch-pail type player, Carder comes across as a player that just going to find a place to fit and contribute. It might just be on special teams as a rookie, but he made himself noticed on the practice field in the spring.
Recording 228 tackles, 2.5 of them for a loss, 5.5 sacks and four interceptions, Carder has the ability and recognition of opposing offenses that could make him an invaluable backup middle linebacker. He can play any linebacker position asked of him.
Playing time for Carder will depend on the play of fellow rookie Nigel Bradham, who has the edge on explosiveness and speed. Regardless, Bills fans can expect to see Carder begin his National Football League career on special teams, where he can be a force.